The direct origins of the Bridgeburners stretch back to 1991, when childhood friends Eric Elmer and Jerry Waggoner formed a band they called The Midnight Ramblers, after the Rolling Stones tune of the same name. Along with drummer Craig Oosterhouse and a Yamaha drum machine, the band produced a painfully unlistenable nine-song tape ("Ramble On") of mostly cover material.
Eric had up to that point been making music in The Carpetbaggers, with a cast of characters made up of high school friends Jason Feehan, Oliver Dreger, and Paul Fleck. The band was entirely a studio creation, never performing live but producing hundreds of sonic experiments on a four-track recorder, basically teaching themselves how to play each instrument they required.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Lake Michigan in Grand Rapids, MI, Jerry Waggoner was beginning to study the slide guitar work of the late, great Duane Allman. He began to add slide to his own home recordings, and after months of trading tapes through the mail, Eric and Jerry hatched plans to form The Midnight Ramblers.
As the seven-hour drive from Iowa City to Grand Rapids was a long one, he and Jerry kept the Midnight Ramblers alive through the magic of the U.S. Mail. Eric would record some instruments onto tape and pass it on to Jerry, who would add parts of his own and mail it back. They began to record a second round of cover tunes in late 1993.
In the summer of 1994, Eric was back in Chicago. He began to enlist the help of another friend as he worked on mailed tracks from Jerry. Matt Pederson, of Mosinee, WI, was a trained tenor vocalist who just so happened to play keyboards and guitar as well. The wheels were in motion.
In February of 1995 Eric was writing tracks for a new project, when Jerry suggested they put the cover-happy Ramblers to rest, and form an original project. After some discussion, they settled on the name Nightshade. Jerry brought some of his originals to the table, and Eric brought Matt. That summer they recorded their first tape, a collection of ten originals. It was thought that "Sundown" might be the one and only project, as Jerry returned to his home in Michigan and Matt to college in Minnesota.
"Sundown" set the pattern for how the band would later operate. Jerry and Matt wrote the majority of the music, Eric wrote lyrics, and between the three of them (with the help of Mr. Drum Machine), they would layer the vocals and instruments.
At the end of the summer, Eric and Jerry attended the yearly Beatles convention at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare. They competed with twenty other acts, performing "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window" for the judges and audience of about 150. When the finalists were announced, "Silver Hammer" as they called themselves, were among them. That night the duo played the "big room," the assembled conventioneers well in excess of 1,200 people. They failed to win, but it was a defining moment.
At this time, Eric began to get involved with the Demo Exchange group on America Online (founded by future bandmate Bill Morse), a collection of musicians and home recording enthusiasts who exchanged original material on nationwide compilation tapes. When Nightshade began to get some positive feedback from the members of DX, the band began to think that it might be a good idea to keep it going, take it to the next step. They began writing new material. In January, 1996 they gathered at Eric's home in Wheeling, IL to record a second collection of original music, entitled Blue Moments. They hoped to use this tape to attract a drummer and a bass player, so that they might pursue the dream of playing live.
1996 was a banner year for the band. In April they found a drummer, Tom Beyer. Tom had been right under their nose the whole time, had known Eric for awhile, and when the band discovered that he had recently taken up the skins at the ripe old age of 22, he was quickly asked to join the group. It didn't take long for him to develop fantastic chops, and his easygoing personality was welcomed by the band.
In July of 1996, Nightshade cleared another big hurdle. Eric had thrown a summer BBQ party every summer, and at the 6th annual Elmore BBQ Bash, Nightshade performed live for the first time for a basement audience of about two dozen friends. With Eric's cousin Matthew Berry (later of the band Clear) filling in temporarily on bass,the five-piece Nightshade played nine songs (including a handful of originals) for a polite audience of partygoers, recording the event for posterity. As one partygoer was heard on that tape to remark: "Either you guys are getting better or I'm getting drunker." It was a little of both.
Things began to happen quickly. Jerry and his wife moved from Grand Rapids to the Chicagoland area. From August to December, Eric and Jerry began playing weekly at local open mic nights. They quickly became comfortable singing and playing on stage. Eric was doing the majority of the lead vocals, and somewhere along the line had become the bass player as well (auditions for a bassist were not fruitful). Meanwhile, Jerry continued to develop and excel as a slide guitarist. The guys also began to develop an extensive list of material, drawing from their love of traditional blues, Beatles, and straight-up rock and roll.
The band capped off 1996 by playing Jason Feehan's New Year's bash for a few dozen friends. They began 1997 with a lot of excitement, tempered by the fact that Matt Pederson still lived in Minneapolis. The band was stalled. During the wait, they recorded a five-song demo tape of orignal songs, drawn from the better material off Sundown and Blue Moments. In August of 1997 they played their final show as Nightshade, at Eric's 7th annual BBQ. A month later they chose a new name.
Nightshade was in use by a number of other bands across the country (proven by searching the internet). They also felt it didn't properly communicate the essense of the music. The voodoo connotations of the word were often overlooked, and without that reference, the name seemed overly theatrical and more appropriate for a death metal or goth band. They needed something active, something that went hand-in-hand with the blues/rock ethic, and played off their personalities as well.
In September they became The Bridgeburners, and inaugurated the name on New Year's Eve, opening for Jason Feehan's Beatnik Turtle amidst a crowd of tipsy revelers. Two days before this show, Matt Pederson moved to Chicago for good.
The band played a few open mic showcases early that year, primarily at the Penny Road Pub in South Barrington, IL, and the US Beer Company in Chicago. They were finally offered a paying gig at the latter. The guys set to work, practicing as a full band more frequently in April and May than in all of 1997 combined. A few weeks before the show, they added another player to the group.
Matt Pederson had met Tom Czapiewski at work, and soon discovered that the guitarist had an affinity for blues, Stevie Ray Vaughn in particular. He practiced and performed with the Bridgeburners all that summer, as the guys played gigs at the Beacon Tap in Des Plaines and return engagements at the U.S. Beer Company. Having a second, dedicated guitarist freed up the original three to switch up the instruments they played on stage. The band began to become more versatile. They added more interesting material to the playlist.
Tom C. and the band parted company in August of 1998. The Bridgeburners completed their summer gig schedule at Nick's Pub in Chicago as a four-piece. It went well enough that the guys figured the original lineup was all they needed. A few additional shows in 1998 supported this conclusion. They had long wanted to put more of the focus on their original material, and the new songs coming forth were exciting with just the four instruments and three voices. Matt stepped into the second-guitar void and began to develop his own style, bringing a more country-influenced flavor to the mix.
During the first half of 1999, the band completed work on a six-song demo CD with Jason Feehan producing. In the spring, Eric and Jerry traveled to the East Coast (Springfield, MA) to help record a special project with several Demo Exchange colleagues: That Zing Thing.
In the fall of 1999, The Bridgeburners returned to frequent live performance, lining up shows at Ye Olde Town Inn in Mt. Prospect, Durty Nellie's in Palatine, and returning to The Beacon Tap.
In February of 2000, the band began work on a full-length CD project ("Set The Scene"). The ten songs that make up this project were a mixture of old and new. This CD is currently available on this website.
The Bridgeburners road-tripped it out to Iowa for a special outdoor BBQ show in May of 2000, and returned to performing in Chicago that summer, where they were occasionally joined by Danny Allen on drums when Tom was unavailable. In the fall, longtime friend of the band Bill Morse joined on bass, happily bumping Eric over to acoustic guitar and harmonica. After over two years a quartet, the Bridgeburners took the stage as a five-piece at Coyle's Tippling House on December 16th, 2000 (Jerry's 28th birthday).
The Bridgeburners began 2001 with a couple appearances at the famed Abbey Pub in Chicago (in January and March). During the early spring they took a brief detour from music to write and produce a film project, but ended that hiatus by returning to Iowa for a second appearance at the Seiffertstock BBQ in Atkins, IA. Jerry, Eric, and Matt also performed occasionally as special guests with Beatnik Turtle.
In January of 2002, the band began work on a new round of originals. Recorded at Eric's CoolBaby Studios in Palatine, this project eventually became the Short Stack EP, which is also availble for free download from this site. Bill began to add additional instruments to the mix, most notably mandolin, and the sound continued to evolve.
During this year, the band peformed at private parties, outdoor festivals, the Cabaret of Naperville, and most notably at Ye Olde Town Inn for a CD release party in November, where they were joined on stage by many special guests. Some selections from this show are also available on the site.
The band began 2003 with a new member: Danny Allen became a full-fledged Bridgeburner and played his first official show in January at The Roundhouse in Aurora. The band continued to work on new material throughout the year, and contributed to some compilation projects. Other performances included the traditional Ye Olde Town Inn show in the fall, where both drummers participated, switching between the kit and the congas. Diona Waggoner also continued her popular live appearances, and as always, every show contained some surprises.
2004 saw a couple of Roundhouse appearances, on both the indoor and outdoor stages. The band played an August show as the original quartet in August, and almost immediately began preparation for a spectacular Halloween blowout on October 30 which included all six members, special guests, and a one-night-only appearance as "Nightshade" playing a second set primarily made up of 80's material. To wrap up the year The Bridgeburners put the "finishing" touches on an unfinished album: Honeytone, a rough overview of studio material developed (or underdeveloped) during 2003 and 2004. Selections from that project are available for download on this site.
The Bridgeburners spent the first third of the year writing some new material, and performing more-or-less weekly at Lamplighter's open mic, just a few blocks from their regular practice space (The fabulous CoolBaby Studios). In June, they completed a new CD co-produced with longtime friend of the band John Lisiecki, and they also performed at new venues in the western suburbs.
After a summer of playing out, many of the more distance-challenged band members found their availability and commitment beginning to wane, and most group decisions and projects fell to the three original members. With babies on the way (Danny welcomed a daughter in June, with Tom, Matt, and Jerry to follow) and a constant shortage of personnel, the core band rehearsed with good friend Mike "The Roast" Shust on drums, and The Bridgeburners played a final show on December 10th, opening for The Cowbirds at Lamplighter's.
Tom and Jenny Beyer welcomed their son to the world less than 36 hours later.
Although the future live lineup of the band is unclear, Jerry, Eric, and Matt plan to develop and record new material as The Bridgeburners after taking some time off. A wise man (who was incapable of operating his vehicle at the posted speed) once said "only time will tell if we stand the test of time" and that's kind of how we roll... thanks for the mammaries, and stay tuned.